Fertility campaigners lobby UK government for change in social egg freezing laws

Fertility and genetics campaigners are calling on the government to extend the ten-year storage limit for frozen eggs for social reasons and hopes the public will support by signing a petition launched on the first day of National Fertility Week

Charity the Progress Educational Trust (PET) launched its #ExtendTheLimit campaign, with director, Sarah Norcross, hoping the government will update what the charity is calling an ‘outdated and unscientific law’.

Sarah said: “Women deserve reproductive choice yet increasing numbers in the UK are facing the stark choice of having to destroy their frozen eggs or become a mother before they are ready to do so because of an outdated and unscientific law.

“The PET’s #ExtendTheLimit campaign aims to improve women’s reproductive options and extend the 10-year storage limit for social egg freezing by gathering 100,000 signatures. The Government will then be forced to debate a change in the law at Westminster.

‘Today is the start of Fertility Week 2019: we urge the UK public to sign and share PET’s petition to #ExtendTheLimit for social egg freezing, and the Government to be compassionate and make the small change necessary to remove this cruel and pointless legislation. Just a minor amendment would give so many women hope for a fertile future.”

In what way is the current legislation unfair?

At present, if a woman wants to try to preserve her fertility, the best time to freeze her eggs is in her 20s but, under current UK law, women who freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons can only store them for ten years. This means if a woman freezes her eggs when she is 22 she has to be ready to use them before she is 32; if she isn’t she faces a limited number of distressing and potentially financially-crippling options: to have her eggs destroyed, and with them perhaps her best or only chance of becoming a biological mother; to become a parent before she is ready to do so, either with a partner or as a solo mum via sperm donation, or to try to fund the transfer of her eggs to a fertility clinic overseas and have fertility treatment abroad at a later date.

Sarah said: ‘The ten-year storage limit for social egg freezing is a very clear breach of human rights: it curtails women’s reproductive choices, harms women’s chances of becoming biological mothers, does not have any scientific basis (eggs remain viable if frozen for longer than ten years) and is discriminatory against women because of the decline in female fertility with age. It is an arbitrary and outdated piece of legislation that does not reflect improvements in egg freezing techniques and changes in society which push women to have children later in life; that’s why it is time for change now.’

Why the charity feel change is needed now

The proportion of women affected by the egg freezing legislation is increasing rapidly: in the UK, the number of women freezing their eggs more than tripled in the last five years. But the current ten-year storage limit acts as a perverse incentive for women to delay freezing their eggs until their mid-to-late 30s when egg quality is declining and a woman’s chance of becoming a biological mother has reduced – latest UK figures show two-thirds of women freezing their eggs are over 35. The charity believes this promotes poor clinical practice – women seeking fertility preservation treatment in their late 30s or 40s typically need more ovarian stimulation and fertility treatment cycles to have a chance at success.

Baroness Ruth Deech QC, whose Private Member’s Storage Period for Gametes Bill calling for a change in the gamete storage legislation was due to be introduced in the House of Lords on Thursday 24 October, said: ‘The storage period of 10 years for frozen eggs was set when little was known about the science. We are calling on the Government to enact a simple change in the law which will end this interference with private and family life under human rights law and give hope to numerous women.”

Professor Emily Jackson, specialist in medical law at the London School of Economics, said: “At the moment, the law mandates the destruction of a woman’s frozen eggs after 10 years, unless she is prematurely infertile. This is a clear and unjustifiable breach of a woman’s human rights. It is also unintentional and would be easy for the government to solve, if it had the will to do so. Please sign this petition and help to persuade the government to make a small change that would make a very big difference to some women’s lives.”

To sign the petition, click here

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